60m | Circus, Comedy, Drama | PG
Before we begin, The Red Shoes is not based on Hans Christian Andersen’s story of child mutilation and nightmare fuel (also known in European Standard English as a “fairy tale”). Instead, Moon Ballad Circus‘s The Red Shoes is an interpretation of a Baba Yaga story which coincidentally can also be considered nightmare fuel depending on the version told.
In this version of Baba Yaga, played by the lovely Sarah Healy, she is a free-spirited contortionist who moonlights as an unapologetic pyromaniac and quickly learns that playing with fire can lead to immaculate conception. The child, aptly named Ember, is played by the captivating Zoe Georgaras (she also goes by the name of Zola Molotov. Awesome). Like every parent based on European fairy tales, Baba Yaga immediately abandons Ember. Luckily, our hero is found and raised by the studious Ilka (Jesse Godland), and we watch as Ilka puts Ember through her very own training montage. Just as Ember is about to reach her final form, Baba Yaga returns and a magical fiery custody battle takes place with Ilka — which is resolved by producing a second child, Lily (Aurora Shankland).
The show is performed outdoors at the bustling street corner of York Street and William Street in the heart of the ByWard Market. Like all outdoor shows, especially on opening night (which was a sellout), the challenges of things like random cat-calls from drunks on nearby restaurant patio, impeccably-timed gusts of winds, pedestrian crowd noise, and technical issues with the sound (lots and lots feedback) can really detract from a performance, but the players never broke character, and dealt with the challenges as they arose, rewarded by a crowd that became increasingly captivated as the story unfolded. Occasionally, an uncooperative microphone made some of the lines inaudible if you’re seated in the back (or outside the venue), so I would suggest sitting as close as possible if you want to catch every word.
Georgaras is really the star of the show here: a trained “fire dancer” from Paris, her performance as Ember was energetic, charming, and it was impossible for me to keep my eyes off of her even when there were other players on the stage. Healy as the show’s contortionist also merits praise, and her body-bending displays easily got the most reactions out of the crowd. For me, the best parts were where Georgaras and Healy were together — body movement and spinning objects on fire weaved together with precision-practised choreography.
Aside from certain moments in the story that felt a little confusing or rushed (e.g., the birth of Lily) The Red Shoes was an entertaining foray held together by two strong performances by Georgaras and Healy. I also feel that a performance should mostly be judged by the reaction of the crowd. When the show ended, I stayed in my seat as people made their way out of the venue to eavesdrop on the general feeling from the crowd: they were entertained.
The Red Shoes is playing at William Square in the ByWard Market (61 York Street) on Sunday, June 19 – 9:00pm; Tuesday, June 21 – 9:00pm; Thursday, June 23 – 9:00pm;Friday, June 24 – 9:00pm; Saturday, June 25 – 9:00pm. Tickets are $12.